Thursday, August 10, 2017

How do you start a story?

There are many ways to start a story, of course. There are many ways to do all the things you have to do to write good fiction. But my way is I start with a character and situation. I try to make, inherent in that character and situation, a conflict and the kernel of what the story might be about. Then I build my story from there.

Alas, I think it's easy to confuse a cool setting or even an interesting character with a STORY. When one of my students says my story is about ancient Rome and there's this really cool dragon in it and some mythical creatures and I've got this character named Sid. He's funny. You'll really love it.

I think, I want to.

I say, Great. But what's it about?

I just told you.

Not really.

It's about ancient Rome.

You told me about setting and you mentioned character. What's it about?


This can go on for a long time. Sometimes the student gets it and sometimes they don't. A cool setting is not a story. That can be a great part of the story. The setting can be fertile ground for the conflict needed to build story. By itself though, not so much. Not at all, really.

Story is more than setting. It's more than a building a character. It's the movement, the progression of character and plot within a design. It's about making the right choices--which conflicts to focus on for example--because you have a clear sense of character and plot movement. Obviously there are many other aspects of writing that need to work, too--great language, dialogue, voice, as mentioned-setting, etc...but this idea of story and its development is crucial.Whether you're an outliner or discovery writer, working on this sense of progression and design can be crucial to finding your way in your novel.

For me, starting with a character and situation,  and building from it helps me find my way.